Implications of Climate Change Agreements on Forest Management in the Greater Mekong Sub-region
Abstract: Concerns over the rapid increase of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, under which 5.2% reduction of the global GHGs emissions was committed. More reduction commitment is expected for the new climate change agreements as new pledges of 80% reductions were recently announced by the G8 countries. Climate change agreements are likely to benefit the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) financially and technologically in various development fields, particularly forestry if GMS countries are well prepared. In this report, we discuss the current and future climate change agreements and propose prioritized multidisciplinary research in forest management and its roles in sustainable development in the GMS. Within the context of climate change agreements, our prioritized research includes 1) multidisciplinary research to analyze the implications of climate change agreements on forest management; 2) multidisciplinary research to analyze the baseline scenarios for the implementation of forestry related projects; 3) basic research to improve understanding of forest and non-forest ecosystem functions and services; 4) multidisciplinary research to create eco-business opportunities in forest sector; and 5) basic research to improve understanding of the roles and benefits of various stakeholders so as to ensure long-term sustainable development.
Keywords: Great Mekong Sub-region, forest management, climate change agreements, ecosystem services, biodiversity conservation
Sasaki, N., Yoshida, T. & Yamamoto, H (2009) Implications of climate change agreements on forest management in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. Proceedings of the International Workshop on Strategic Research Framework of NREMC and GMS/UniNet on NREM. Mae Fah Luang University. November 2009. Chiang Rai: 177-186.
Forest management is defined here as management activities that ensure perpetual supply of ecosystem services from natural forests and forest plantations. In this report, countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) include Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Viet Nam. China’s Yunnan province is excluded due to the lack of data to support our arguments.
Global deforestation is responsible for the release of about 1.5 to 2.2 PgC annually (IPCC 2007, Gullison et al. 2007, Houghton 2003) or about 25% of the global emissions. Additional to losing ecosystem functions, forest degradation additionally emit about the same amount of carbon although such data are commonly limited in the tropics (Gibbs et al 2007). Furthermore, change in species composition resulted from overexploitation or illegal logging can strongly affect the amount of carbon stocks in the forests of up to 600% (Bunker et al. 2005). Rapid deforestation and forest degradation in the GMS have been reported (FAO 2006, Sasaki 2006, Meyfroidt & Lambin 2008). Deforestation and forest degradation have adverse impacts on ecosystem functioning and services, on which a large proportion of GMS population depend for subsistent agricultural cultivation, food, meat, fuelwood, traditional medicines, cultural practices, many other countless traditional practices. Thus, long-term sustainable development in the GMS would be ensured only if appropriate forest management is undertaken taking advantages of the world’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions as well as to help developing countries achieve sustainable development.
As part of the global efforts to reduce carbon emissions by various sources, world leaders adopted in 1997 the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) committing developed countries (Annex 1 countries) to reduce carbon emissions. As the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012) is approaching, new discussions and negotiations for post-Kyoto agreements or new climate change agreements have started. Under both periods of the climate change agreements, financial and technological incentives are made possible to all signatory developing countries. In forest sector, afforestation and reforestation under the clean development mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol, avoiding deforestation and degradation, and enhancement of carbon sinks under the anticipated climate change agreements (to be reached in December 2009) are the eligible activities for financial and technological supports available to developing countries in order to reduce emissions and promote sustainable development in developing countries.
Nevertheless, in order to obtain such incentives or supports from developed countries, a number of questions must be addressed. Here, we discuss the climate change agreements and their implications on forest management and sustainable development in the GMS. We also propose research agenda for the region so that maximum benefits from the new climate change agreements could flow to supplement the existing resources for managing forests for multiple purposes.
2. Climate Change Agreements and Forestry
Foreseeing the danger of the rapid loss of forests and their ecosystem functioning, the world community adopted the Kyoto Protocol to UNFCCC in 1997 and became effective in 2005. This protocol commits Annex 1 countries to reduce about 5.2% of the global carbon emissions compared to the 1990 emission level or baseline. In order to fulfill this commitment, various options may be used by Annex 1 countries. These options include domestic measures and the use of such Kyoto Mechanisms as Emission Trading, Joint Implementation, and Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). CDM directly involve the participation of developing countries (non-Annex 1 countries) that will act as hosting sites for all CDM-related projects, ranging from energy efficiency to renewable energy projects, and to afforestation and reforestation (refer to CDM-AR hereafter) projects. The latter CDM-AR is the focus of our report (see Fig. 1 for explanation). Financial compensation is made possible based on the amount of certified carbon sinks (known as certified emission reductions, CERs) gained through CDM-AR activities. CERs can then be traded or transferred to Annex 1 countries so that they can be credited in the reduction commitment.
Additional to CDM-AR agreements, the Bali Action Plan adopted in 2007 at the 13th Conference of the Parties (COP13) to UNFCCC recognized the importance of avoiding deforestation and degradation (REDD) in developing countries (including all countries in the GMS) and its contribution to sustainable development (Sasaki & Putz 2009). The Bali Action Plan also addressed the important issue of enhanced carbon sinks as well as ecosystem functioning in tropical forests through forest conservation and/or improved forest management (Fig. 1). Together with the REDD, this enhanced carbon sinks activity is termed as REDD-plus. The REDD-plus is likely to be part of the new climate change agreements which will be concluded at the COP15 in Copenhagen in December 2009.
Fig. 1 Current and future climate change agreements and tropical forestry (click here)
A part from compulsory markets, the climate change agreements also encourages the creation of carbon voluntary markets where carbon credits gained from the CDM-AR, REDD or REDD-plus in GMS (as well as in other developing countries) may be traded. Despite huge potentials in terms of financial and technological supports in forestry, so far until recently, only one REDD project was initiated to protect 60,000 ha of natural forests in Oddar Meanchey province in Cambodia. To provide potential markets for carbon gains from forestry projects, global carbon market trends are described below.
Globally, about 0.8 billion MtCO2e (metric ton carbon dioxide equivalent) was traded in 2005 or about $9.4 billion in monetary values. These figures increased rapidly to 5.0 billion MtCO2e in 2008 or about $92.4 billions (Fig. 2). CDM’s traded values share about 17.2–28.9% of the total traded values. More volumes are expected as the world leaders pledged a drastic reduction of 80% at the at the G8 Summit in July 2009.
Fig. 2 Trend of global carbon markets (2005–2008) (click here)
Although CDM markets have been increasing, only developing countries such as China and India share a large proportion of CDM-related projects. Countries in the GMS share only a small fraction of CDM projects (Fig. 3). This may be because the GMS lacks suitable human resources to negotiate or apply for such projects or deal with fast-moving development of climate change discussions. Therefore, research on the inter-linkages between climate change agreements and their roles in, especially forest management and sustainable development should be carried intensively in the GMS. In so doing, the GMS could be in a better position to compete with other developing countries, especially for the new climate change agreements whose forestry-related projects will be huge.
Fig. 3 Locations of CDM projects in Asia and the GMS (click here)
3. Implications on Forest Management in the GMS
According to FAO (2006), the GMS countries have a total land area of 193.9 million ha, of which about 48.1% (93.2 million ha) are covered by forests in 2005. Forest degradation has been reported in all countries, but only forest cover in Viet Nam increase over the 15 years between 1990 and 2005 (Table 1). With our rough estimate over the same period, deforestation is annually responsible for the gross release of about 156.5 million ton of carbon (about 537.7 million MtCO2e). Increase of forest in Vietnam led to an increase of about 70.6 million ton of carbon (about 259.1 million MtCO2e).
Table 1 Forest area change some countries in GMS (1990-2005) (click here)
The loss and gains in Table 1 offer various opportunities for managing forest resources under the current and future climate change agreements. Afforesting and reforesting on deforested land before 1990 are classified as CDM-AR activities whose carbon sinks could be eligible for credits and financial support. Depending on the outcome of the climate change agreements to be reached in December 2009, plantings of trees on recently deforested lands may also be eligible. In order to take advantages of such agreements, GMS should be able to provide historical land use change and methods for carbon accounting from and implementing the all plantation activities in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner.
Historical land use data are also important for implementing REDD activities under the future climate change agreements. Such data should include the rate of deforestation and the drivers of such deforestation. Data for degradation is much more complicated requiring remote sensing technology for large scale assessment and monitoring. But when it comes to small scale project, field assessments on the resource uses and forest inventory must be conducted. Preventing carbon emissions from further deforestation and degradation will likely be compensated in the new climate change agreements.
REDD-plus activities require complicated approaches. All degraded forests must be categorized according to the degrees of degradation (see Sasaki et al. 2009). Available forest restoration techniques may then be applied to each category of degraded forests. These techniques include but not limited to reduced impact logging plus liberation treatments or RIL-plus (Peña-Claros et al. 2008), liberation treatments (Villegas et al. 2009), enrichment plantings, and assisted natural regeneration (Shono et al. 2007).
4. New Research Agenda for the GMS
Baseline determination of the afforestation and reforestation projects of the CDM, REDD and REDD-plus is very important in the climate change negotiations, negotiations for funding, project approval or disapproval. During the negotiations leading to the approval of a project, the following parameters are essential: “measurable, reportable, and verifiable” carbon sinks. All climate change related projects must be measurable, reportable, and verifiable but these activities are difficult to generalize and therefore they require technology, capable human resources, and knowledge of particular sites where the projects are proposed or will be implemented.
Afforestation and reforestation do not always produce the forests of our choice. Plantations are sometimes established in the expense of non-forest ecosystem services such as the loss of underground water; the important source for drinking water and agricultural cultivation. Research on producing environmentally non-destructive tree species (hybrid species) for use as planting tree species on deforested land or degraded land should be promoted throughout the GMS because, in one way or another environmental consequences in a country would affect others.
Forest restoration through either reduced-impact logging, enrichment plantings or natural assisted regeneration also require careful assessment of forest conditions, choices of silvicultural treatments, logging practice, wood processing technology, and/or species to be planted.
5. Effective Research and Dissemination of Results
Under any conventions, government agencies act as signatory partner and as the focal point for international communications, approval or disapproval of any projects requiring the government’s endorsement for funding. Government agencies, on the other hands are not capable enough to discuss with potential project developers due to the lack of up-to-date knowledge of the fields being discussed. In contrast, while university researchers are able to provide such expertise, they are not aware of any government’s plans because they are not coordinated or invited to join the government’s expert teams to discuss with other partners in concerned.
It seems that coordination between government agencies, and donor and development agencies is currently strong in the GMS, but somewhat weak between universities, and government agencies, and donor and development agencies. Since all communications and financial flows will have to go through the government agencies, the above three types of agencies should be well coordinated in order to achieve maximum benefits from the climate change agreements.
The GMS has huge potentials of obtaining financial and technological supports from the current and future climate change agreements if the region is well prepared to do so. CDM-AR, REDD, and REDD-plus will likely be a major climate change package in the new climate change agreements. Promoting research on baseline determination, measurable, reportable and verifiable methods, techniques, and technologies is of great essential. The region should then identify the stakeholders of forest resources, their roles, and train them to participate in the management taking into consideration the climate change agreements and financial assistance that would otherwise not available to those stakeholders. To ensure long-term success in implementing the climate change related projects, research experience in the GMS should be shared on a regular basis through the GMS Academic and Research Network. Sharing experience across Southeast Asia and other tropical countries could improve GMS’s capacity in dealing with problems that arise from the implementation of the climate change related projects across the globe.